Archive for July, 2011

How to dry and store onions for winter

onions dryingThe unpatented Soilman Onion Preservation Process, in  steps:

1. Pull up onions. Leaving the stems on, pile them in a heap under glass/plastic for about 10 days
2. When the stems have dried and shrunk, cut them off about three inches above the bulb proper
3. Leave onions for another month or so, until fully dry
4. Peel off the loosest papery skin and store in mesh bags, suspended from the ceiling in a cool, dark place

Works for me.

Posted on 22nd July 2011
Under: Alliums | 6 Comments »

London tourism: expensive shit

London Parliament SquareSorry for another non-gardening post, folks, but I had to mention this.

I have the in-laws staying at the moment, so I’ve been doing the traditional London tourism shit. It’s been a very long time since I did this, so I was unprepared for the experience.

From a British citizen’s and Londoner’s point of view, then, here are my reflections upon London tourism:

  • Jesus Christ, but it’s SO FUCKING EXPENSIVE. The biggest rip-off I ever saw. Seriously disgraceful. A family pass to Madame Tussaud’s – a two-hour entertainment, at most – is £99. That’s after you’ve queued for THREE HOURS to get in. Everything else is as bad – Buck House, the London Eye. For a family ticket, none of them give you much change from £100, if any. Stay in London for a week and see everything and I reckon you’re looking at something like £700 per adult without bed and board.
  • The queues, the queues (see above). Westminster Abbey is just about acceptable at ‘only’ 20 mins waiting. Everywhere else sucks. Madame Tussaud’s broke my heart: Expensive and shit. Why anybody wants to see the damn place so much is utterly baffling.
  • The restrictions. I haven’t been to Parliament Square for a while, so I was shocked to see the permanent railings (see pic) keeping people out. I understand why – the riots etc. But that the central, eponymous historic public space at the heart of our democracy should deny access to its own citizens is appalling.
  • The profanity of charging £50 for three adults and a child at St Paul’s cathedral. Six years ago, when I last went, it was free. How dare they suddenly start charging? I thought St Paul’s (unlike Westminster Abbey, which stopped being a ‘real’ church years ago) was a place of proper worship?
  • The websites. As if the foregoing weren’t irritating enough, London’s various ‘attractions’ have created a new Hell in their booking systems. In this dungeon of impenetrable jargon (‘Fasticket’, ‘Freedom pass’, ‘Fastrack’), you quickly become disorientated by the conflicting price information, the combined ‘multi-attraction’ offers, the early/late savers, the ‘priority’ no-queue options and the two-for-one ‘specials’ that turn out to be pricier than certain individual tickets. It’s almost as if – perish the thought – it was all created specifically to confuse.

Anything good to mention? Well, Brits are as polite and orderly as ever – no queue jumping, and smiles all round. Plus every guide and usher is a comedian; a perennial pleasure of living in the UK.

But on the whole, the experience is depressing. I’m saddened by the overpriced and crummy commercial ‘attractions’ that our capital has to offer the world. To think that people fly thousands of miles to queue on Euston Road for three hours, then pay so much money to see something so fucking tawdry…

Well I just wish it weren’t so. That’s all I’m saying.

PS: Want ideas for things to do in London? Some of these might appeal, if you like the unusual. And many of these are must-dos: unusual, interesting and great value for money. If you’re a history nut, walking the Thames path is 100% free and the best way, bar none, to see the sights of London.

If you know any unusual, cheap and interesting things to do in London, do please add them in the comments. May help some luckless, itinerant American who is even now pacing the streets of our capital, utterly broke, and cursing these islands for their disgraceful contempt for visitors.

Posted on 20th July 2011
Under: Rants | 9 Comments »

Mixed supper

mixed vegetables from the allotmentQuite a mixed bag tonight. I appear to have grown Britain’s biggest beetroots to go with the exhibition cauliflowers. I may have to make that weird summer salad the Greeks like so much – you know, the one that’s a mixture of cooked and raw veg, purple because of the fresh beetroot. Rather nice.

This is turning into an extraordinary year in the vegetable garden. From a very inauspicious start, I’m getting bumper crops in almost all departments.

The ghastly weather helps, of course. Rain sucks, but it makes fierce vegetables.

Posted on 17th July 2011
Under: Cucurbits, Flowers, Potatoes, Roots | 4 Comments »

Of Hugh Grant and media abuses (continued)…

I know I shouldn’t, but I really do have to comment on Hugh Grant’s interventions into the phone-hacking scandal.

Hugh’s a splendid chap and I have huge respect for what he’s trying to do. The cynic in me fears he’s motivated less by selfless concern for the public good than by revenge (it was News International papers that cheerled the story of his embarrassing roadside blowjob), but I’m willing to suspend my cynicism. Hey, right thing even for wrong reason etc etc.

My worry about Hugh and his enthusiastic cheerleaders is that they risk exemplifying the dangerous adage that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I don’t disagree for a second with his analysis that “there has been a grotesque power over our lawmakers.” Spot on. That’s how Murdoch (and, for ages, Conrad Black at the Telegraph) kept scandal at bay. Nobody in public office (or in a private position of power) wants to offend the media – obviously. It’s dangerous.

And yes, it IS grotesque. It affords the media, as I’ve said before, a disproportionate and shocking power. Which they will abuse. That’s human beings for you.

But here’s the thing: The alternative – politicians wielding grotesque power over the media – is far worse. If, like me, you deplore the vices of a free media uncontrolled by government, wait until you see the behaviour of a ‘free’ government unrestrained by media.

Speaking for myself, I’m forever amazed by what our lords and masters get up to even when they know the eyes of the press are upon them (parliamentary expenses, anyone?).

Believe me, you do NOT want to live in a country where the media lives in fear of politicians. On the contrary. We want our lawmakers and powerbrokers to fear the press. We need them to.

The downside, as ever, is that this has a price. Freedom – of the media, of the individual, of society – always does.

Example: You want to be free to own a firearm? Fine. But you’ll have to put up with an increased risk of being shot, or seeing your children shot. Americans, on the whole, understand this freedom dilemma better than Europeans, and I admire them for it. This side of the Atlantic, we’re all for minimising risk – all risk – at the expense of a wide range of freedoms.

When it comes to press freedom, it is exceptionally dangerous to tinker – no matter how noble or desirable the goal. I’m all for preventing a repeat of the phone hacking, and all the rest of it (I have an even greater interest in stopping it than a non-journalist), but every ‘solution’ proposed, so far, scares the shit out of me.

It should scare the shit out of you too. We must get this right – which means cool, unemotional deliberation and great, great care.

We do not need excitable luvvies running around talking about grotesque press power and demanding that politicians ‘control’ the media.

Posted on 13th July 2011
Under: Rants, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

This is getting silly

cauliflowersThis really is getting silly.

I’m up to my neck in cauliflowers. Drowning in ’em.

Anyone fancy a cauliflower? Eh?


Posted on 11th July 2011
Under: Brassicas | 5 Comments »

Of cauliflowers and media abuses

cauliflowersAnd so the glut begins. Thought I was going to get no cauliflowers at all during the dry patch. Now that it’s been pissing with rain for three weeks, they’re going nuts. I cut all of these this evening, and there are more on the way.

I’d normally be triumphant – boringly, nauseatingly triumphant. But I can’t bring myself to gloat tonight. The News of the World scandal is profoundly depressing me.

It’s not the evil, amoral wankers who hacked that poor, dead girl’s phone – although they sicken me. It’s not even the risible, farcical denials from NOTW upper management that they knew nothing about what was going on.

No, what really bugs me is that several hundred decent journalists (most entirely unconnected with the scandal, and hired long afterwards) are now going to lose their jobs so that everyone in upper management can keep theirs.

There truly is something wickedly immoral at the heart of this whole revolting story. The stench that hovers around the Murdoch name and the Murdoch empire is suffocating – and I speak as a journalist and a NOTW admirer (easy to forget, but they used to do – and have done – some great journalism as well as the end-of-pier kiss ‘n’ tells).

It matters for Americans, too

To my American readers, to whom this may all seem arcane and irrelevant: It matters to you guys, too. The Murdoch family, through News Corp, owns vast media interests in the USA, and is bidding for more.

Americans who care about and have any say in good corporate governance need to have a long, hard look at how News International has been behaving on this side of the pond. Do you really think these behaviours have been confined to Britain? What on earth has been going on elsewhere?

Are these people you want running anything important, significant or influential in your country?

Thought not.

Posted on 7th July 2011
Under: Brassicas, Rants | 11 Comments »